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How Not to Contest an Election

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

President Donald Trump is very much within his rights to contest the (as yet) preliminary results of the 2020 election, but it matters how he decides to do that.

The president is right to point out irregularities, altered deadlines, and other various shenanigans in the election, but it is extremely unlikely that the limited claims for which his legal team has evidence will reverse Joe Biden’s majorities in the critical swing states Trump needs to flip in order to win the election. Furthermore, his lawsuits should focus on election integrity, rather than trying to get the right votes to put the president over the top.

Sadly, it seems Trump has adopted a dangerous mentality about this election, a mentality all too common on the Left. Rather than calling for patience and waiting for every legal vote to be counted and every illegal vote thrown out, the president has repeatedly insisted, “I won the Election!”

Indeed, it seems as though the president cannot accept the idea that he could have lost the election, and that is dangerous.

The president has said that the only way he could lose the 2020 election is if the election were rigged. It seems the president identifies himself as a winner, and therefore he could not lose. The entire point of having an election, however, like the point of having a game of basketball or football, is that either side can lose. The competition matters in part because one side will win and one side will lose.

As Al Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, pointed out, Trump is not the first to suggest that he could only lose due to cheating. In fact, the Left has been particularly guilty of this dangerous mentality for years. Stacey Abrams has proven herself notorious in this regard.

According to the Left’s narrative, Democrats are the party of the righteous and Republicans are the party of the evil bigots who hate all the identity groups to whom the Left caters: racial minorities, LGBT people, women, immigrants, et cetera. Republicans can only win because the system is rigged against the true will of the majority, which is righteous and marches under the donkey banner. Democrats’ opponents aren’t just wrong, they’re on the “wrong side of history.”

Donald Trump’s stunning (but narrow) 2016 election victory shattered that narrative — and his (pending) narrow defeat in 2020 also shattered that narrative. Trump won 71 million votes, and he increased his vote share among women, Cuban Americans, and Mexican Americans. Trump may have lost, but even in losing, he put paid to the Democrats’ grand narrative.

In part due to this very reason, the Left never really accepted Trump’s victory in 2016. Mohler noted, “it would good for the left in the United States to recognize and to admit before the American public, that it has never reconciled itself to the legitimacy of President Trump’s election in 2016. Ever since November of 2016, many people on the Left who are now being heralded as paragons of democratic virtue out loud denied the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s election, even though he won clearly in the Electoral College.”

Even as Trump began his work as president-elect, “the mainstream media and the Democratic Party, at least several leaders in that party, began routinely to dismiss his entire presidency as illegitimate. It didn’t end when Donald Trump took the oath of office. Hillary Clinton, the candidate he defeated, said in September of 2019, now note that’s nearly three years after her defeat, she said this, ‘He knows,’ meaning Donald Trump, ‘He knows he’s an illegitimate president.'”

“Now, if President Trump has now guilty of violating democratic norms, where was the mainstream media to describe the same when it came to Hillary Clinton in 2019? The Democrats who are now criticizing President Trump, and I think in many cases, quite legitimately, need to turn the criticism on themselves and on the leaders of their own party for saying very similar things throughout the administration of Donald Trump,” Mohler noted. About a third of the Democrats in the House of Representatives boycotted Trump’s inauguration.

Mohler also noted that former President Jimmy Carter said — also in 2019 — that the Russians meddled in the 2016 election, “and I think the interference, though not yet quantified, if fully investigated, would show that Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016. He lost the election and he was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf.”

This kind of conspiracy is heinous, and it serves to undermine the public’s trust in elections. Worse, it seems as though the legacy media that spends so much time demonizing Trump for questioning the legitimacy of the preliminary 2020 results has decided to completely gloss over Carter’s notorious comments.

Also in 2019, no less a figure than Joe Biden himself reportedly told a woman in New Hampshire, “I absolutely agree” when she said she thought Trump was an illegitimate president.

Trump is a legitimate president, and barring any near-miraculous turn of events in the contesting of ballots, Joe Biden will be a legitimate president, as well. Losing is always a very real possibility in politics, and both Republicans and Democrats need to get used to the idea.

Although it seems Trump likely lost, there are many important silver linings to this eventuality. As noted above, the president expanded his vote totals among racial minorities and women, putting paid to the Democrats’ ideas about an inevitable blue wave. Republicans gained seats in the House of Representatives and seem likely to hold on to the majority in the U.S. Senate. Democrats are likely to lose even more in the midterms in 2022.

So long as Trump ultimately does concede (barring any impressive vote swings in his contesting of the results), his legacy will be rather strong. Trump bucked the status quo on Israel and achieved historic peace deals. He withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord and U.S. emissions fell, anyway. Thanks to Operation Warp Speed, multiple coronavirus vaccines are in the works, set to make history as the fastest vaccine project ever. Before the coronavirus pandemic, black and Hispanic unemployment reached historic lows.

Despite his loss in 2020, Trump’s presidency is nothing to sniff at. But the president needs to learn one vital lesson: there is no inevitability in politics. Even a winner like Trump can lose occasionally. Let’s just hope his “I can’t lose” attitude doesn’t hurt his parties chances in the Georgia Senate runoffs — and in political debates, going forward.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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